East Bank Trail

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The East Bank Trail provides land access from the North Cascades Highway all the way to Hozomeen on the Canadian Border which is as far north as you can go in Washington without stepping into another country. The entire trek of 31 hiking miles is comprised of a series of three separate trails, each one reflecting differences in trail characteristics, terrain, and access opportunities. The following description begins at the highway trailhead and ends at Lightning Creek Landing. See the articles for Lightning Creek Trail and Hozomeen Lake Trail (on this website) for a description of the entire journey to Hozomeen.

The East Bank Trailhead is a nexus for a number of trails which share the same parking lot. These include the Happy Panther Trail which parallels the south side of Ruby Arm between here and Ross Dam; Panther Creek Trail which climbs behind Ruby Mt. (the towering hillside behind you and across the highway); and the Ruby Creek Trail which begins on the far side of the bridge over Ruby Creek a short distance below you.

Beginning at the highway parking lot, the trail quickly drops down then crosses Ruby Creek on a substantial bridge. This entire area was once denuded of trees and the land torn apart during a frantic gold rush that lasted only a couple of tumultuous years around 1880. The rejuvenation of the natural forest since then is amazing however and without the interpretive signs located near the bridge you may not have suspected that this area had once been so hard used. On the far side of the bridge the Ruby Creek Trail begins on the right, going upstream while the East Bank Trail continues to the left. The trail initially provides a fairly level hike using an old mining road as it parallels Ruby Creek to the west. The creek becomes increasingly wider eventually becoming the Ruby Arm of Ross Lake, the flooded creek valley formed when the Skagit River backed up behind Ross Dam. Nearby but below the current lake waters are the ruins of Ruby City a one time gold mining community.

A little more than a mile and a few hundred feet of elevation gain leads to a junction with the Little Jack Mountain Trail. This trail climbs steeply up the southern face of Little Jack Mountain and provides access to an open alpine summit offering a wonderful viewpoint of its larger parent as well as many of the surrounding mountains and valleys of the North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness. Be careful with this junction, nearby a spur leads west to the Ruby Pasture horse and Hidden Hand hiker camps while the main trail continues north up over Hidden Hand Pass. The origin of the mysterious name of this pass is equally mysterious. Among several stories, one relates that it was a painted or possibly skeletal hand that pointed an early prospector, John Rowley, to the Ruby Creek gold strike. Regardless of the accuracy of any of the stories or the amount of gold he might have found, he has since been made somewhat casually immortal by the naming of the great mountain rising above you with his nickname, Jack.

After a steep climb over Hidden Hand Pass the forested trail continues for about seven miles providing more camping opportunities before reaching Devils Creek. The Park’s requirement for campground preregistration was designed to insure that all types of users (hiker, stock, and boat-in) would each have access to camping and the number of campers would be appropriate for the facilities available. The last couple of miles of trail before Devils Creek have the narrowest tread but they also provide some of the best lake views. Depending on lake levels (lowest in the spring) you’ll either be lakeside or high above the water on the top of a steep bank. An interesting feature along this trail is provided by some of the small springs that were created when bedrock was blasted with dynamite to construct this portion of the trail. The high mineral content of the water gives off a faint sulphur smell and stains the rocks various shades of red and yellow.

At the Devil’s Creek area, just north of the bridge crossing, the terrain widens again and provides not only camping areas but a dock for powerboat access. For some hikers, the dock is the beginning or the end of a variety of loops made possible by a prearranged pickup or drop-off by the Ross Lake Resort water taxi service. The steep trail climbing Devils Creek from here is one end of the Devi’s Dome Trail loop which circles around the east and northern flanks of Jack Mt. Continuing north on the East Bank Trail, less than five miles remain before reaching the popular Lightning Creek Landing.

The environment surrounding Ross Lake is unusual in its climate and plant communities. Despite being west of the official Pacific Crest it combines species and characteristics of both the wet western slopes and the arid eastern ranges. The weather and resulting terrain often tends to be drier here than typical western Washington but there is no guarantee that ocean storms won’t deliver a generous amount of precipitation during any season. While this valley was utilized by Native Peoples for centuries, the current trail is modern, most of it having been constructed following the creation of Ross Lake. Though not ancient, the modern route provides a wonderful recreational opportunity to explore this area. During the spring, the lower lake level (draw-down) forms a rather ugly shoreline however it also provides a visual record of the many animals that live here but are so rarely seen. Along the shore and in wetter sections of the trail, tracks of cougar, bear, as well as deer can be found. In tall trees along the water the characteristic nests of osprey are visible while soaring higher still, eagles and possibly even peregrine falcons may be seen.

The East Bank Trail lives up to its name, despite climbing hillsides and crossing forested passes it always returns to the lake adding interest and variety along its length. Whether planning a once in a lifetime backpack or merely sampling a day trip, the East Bank Trail will offer you plenty of choices.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 5/11/2010

Directions

The East Bank Trailhead is located on the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) near Milepost 138 on the north side of the road. This is about 3 miles east of the Ross Dam Trailhead. In the winter months the highway is usually closed and gated at the location of the Ross Dam Trailhead due to avalanche danger at higher elevations. During this time you cannot drive to the East Bank Trailhead parking lot.

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